Magic item (Dungeons & Dragons)

Magic item (Dungeons & Dragons)

In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, a magic item is any object that has magical powers inherent in it. These may act on their own or be the tools of the character in whose hands they fall into. Magic items have been prevalent in the game in every edition and setting, from the original edition in 1974 until the modern fourth edition.[1] In addition to jewels and gold coins, they form part of the treasure that the players often seek in a dungeon.[2] Magic items are generally found in treasure hordes, or recovered from fallen opponents; sometimes, a powerful or important magic item is the object of a quest.[3]



Magical items are classified into several categories, depending to a certain degree on the game edition. These categories include weapons, armor, potions, rings, scrolls and miscellaneous (or wondrous) items, and another category called "rods, staves, and wands", which is sometimes separated into its three stated components. With version 3.5 of the D&D rules, these item categories were associated with particular "feats", that a player character can acquire.

Weapons and armor

Weapons (such as magic swords) and armor in the D&D game serve to make characters more effective in combat. Commonly, magical weapons increase both the chances of hitting an opponent, as well as the amount of damage the weapon will deal, while magical armor decreases an opponent's chances of hitting the character. They are assigned enchantment ratings such as +1 or +5, indicating the strength of the increase or decrease. Some magic weapons and armor are outfitted with additional magical properties.


A potion is a magic liquid that produces its effect upon a character when imbibed. Each type of potion has a specific effect, from turning a character invisible, to curing the character's wounds. Generally, a potion only functions once, when consumed. There are also magic oils which take effect by being rubbed on a character, instead of being drunk.


Magic rings bestow magical powers upon a character wearing one. Most will function when activated, though some have a limit on how many times they can be used in one day. Traditionally, a character may only wear two magic rings at a time.

Rods, Staves, and Wands

Magic rods, staves, and wands are devices that can be used to produce a number of magical effects by a character wielding one. Some of these items reproduce specific magic spells, and can only be wielded by a character proficient in that type of spell.


A magic scroll is a spell or collection of spells that has been stored in written form. Once a spell has been cast from a scroll, the scroll can no longer be used to cast that spell. The scroll must be magically deciphered before it can be used; this can only be done by a member of the appropriate class for the spell.

Wondrous items / miscellaneous magic items

Wondrous items, or miscellaneous magic items, (the name of this category depends on the edition) are magic items which don't fit into any of the other major categories, and can come as many different types. Some are boots, cloaks, robes, jewelry, or other objects that can be worn, but would not be considered armor. Some come in the form of books or tomes, such as the book of vile darkness and book of exalted deeds; these items can generally only be used once, but will grant a permanent enhancement to the reader (if of the appropriate class and alignment for the item). Some are magical musical instruments that can cause various effects when played. Other wondrous items can store items in extra-dimensional spaces, such as the bag of holding or portable hole.

Intelligent items

Some magic items possess an intrinsic intelligence. These items strive for certain goals and may seek to dominate their owners to further their agenda. But they also have special powers which they will use in the service of their cause.

Cursed items

Some magic items affect the character using them in a negative way, either by design or by accident. The girdle of femininity/masculinity is an example of a magic item designed to have an undesired effect on the character using it. Cursed weapons and armor often have negative enhancement bonuses, making them less effective than a non-magical item of the same type.


Artifacts are unique, powerful magic items. Unlike typical magic items, artifacts cannot be created in play and cannot be disenchanted or destroyed by mundane means. Each artifact is intelligent and has specific goals. An artifact's power depends on its current attitude towards its wielder; its more powerful effects may work alterations on its wielder as a side effect.

Examples of artifacts include the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords, the Codex of the Infinite Planes, the Eye and Hand of Vecna, Heward's Mystical Organ, the Rod of Seven Parts, the Mace of Cuthbert, the Wand of Orcus, and the Sword of Kas.

Overview of magic items by edition

Original Dungeons & Dragons (1974)

The original D&D boxed set introduced all the traditional magic item categories, except for rods (which first appeared in the Greyhawk supplement).

Enhancement bonuses for weapons and armor in the original game were originally capped at +3 (+2 for armor); but +4 and +5 swords and armor were introduced in the Greyhawk supplement, which also allowed non-sword weapons to have their bonuses applied to damage as well as to-hit rolls. Cursed weapons and armor usually had a -1 enchantment, except for the Berserker Sword which was +1. All magic swords were intelligent in the original game; this did not change until the introduction of the Advanced and Basic games.

Some staves and rods in these editions had additional properties beyond their spell-casting ability, often enabling them to be used as weapons. The main difference between the three item categories was that they used different saving throw categories.

In addition to spell scrolls, there are scrolls of protection. These items can be used to produce a magical field that repels a certain type of monster or protects against a certain effect; unlike spell scrolls, they do not need to be deciphered and can be used by all classes.

Magical tridents were considered miscellaneous items, rather than weapons, since the trident was not yet defined as a weapon.

Artifacts were mentioned in the original set text, but were first detailed in the Eldritch Wizardry supplement. The artifacts are given suggested powers that can be changed by the DM. Weapon-type artifacts usually respected the +3/+5 limit on enhancement bonuses. An additional set of artifacts were described in an article in the Strategic Review.[4]

Basic Dungeons & Dragons

The Holmes Basic set greatly curtailed the list of items from the original rules, especially removing the most powerful items. Most swords in this version of D&D had a +1 or +2 enhancement bonuses; the exceptions being the cursed sword -1 and the Troll Slayer sword +3 (which is only +1 against nontrolls). Other items always had +1 enchantment, except for the cursed armors, which were -2.

In addition to spell scrolls, there are scrolls of protection. These items can be used to produce a magical field that repels a certain type of monster or protects against a certain effect; unlike spell scrolls, they do not need to be deciphered and can be used by all classes. Moreover, the Holmes Basic Set allowed scrolls to duplicate the effects of other items, to make up for the limited spell list.

The Moldvay Basic Set revises the item list, removing such things as the now-useless Troll Slayer (trolls did not appear till the Expert Set in this version). Cursed armor now raises the wearer's AC to 9 (the same as an unarmored human in the Basic game), rather than having a fixed negative enchantment. The cursed sword is still -1. In addition, cursed swords add their enchantment to both hit rolls and damage, as in the Advanced game; the old Basic set followed the Original rules in this regard.

Spell scrolls have lost the ability to duplicate rings and potions, but gained the ability to contain 2nd and 3rd level spells of both classes, even though these are not available to 3rd level PCs by normal means.

The contemporary Cook/Marsh Expert Set adds more items, allowing all equipment types to be enchanted up to +3, and allowing cursed armor and shields to have any of -1, -2, or AC 9 enchantments. Swords can also be intelligent (this occurs 33.5 % of the time) giving them powers and ego similar to OD&D magical swords.

Spell scrolls can now only contain spells of up to 6th level, which could also be cast by 14th level magic users (although not by 14th level clerics).

The Mentzer Basic Set revises the item list again, adding a +2 shield and dagger as well as the sword; cursed equipment of all types is -1.

Spell scrolls in the Mentzer Basic Set retain their previous cap of 3rd level.

Artifacts and relics were not introduced into the Basic game until the Master set.

1st edition AD&D

In the 1st edition of AD&D, each normal (i.e., not cursed or an artifact) magic item has an experience value and a GP value; these statistics are used in item creation. The experience is awarded to player for finding the item, while the GP value represents the amount of money a character would typically get for selling it.

Enhancement bonuses for swords and armor in these editions are generally capped at +5, except for artifacts. Non-sword weapons have only bonuses of +3 or lower (again, some artifacts exceed this limit). Cursed weapons and armor usually have a -1 enchantment, except in a few special cases.

Some staves and rods in these editions have additional properties beyond their spell-casting ability, often enabling them to be used as weapons.

In addition to spell scrolls, there are scrolls of protection. These items can be used to produce a magical field that repels a certain type of monster or protects against a certain effect; unlike spell scrolls, they do not need to be deciphered and can be used by all classes.

In the first edition, all artifacts are classed as miscellaneous magic items, even ones that are weapons, armor, or rings. Each artifact has a certain number of Minor, Major, and Prime Powers, and of Minor, Major, and Side Effects which trigger when the item is acquired, or its Major and Prime Powers are used. The powers and effects are selected by the DM from a set of lists, so that players cannot predict the artifact's powers.[5]

2nd edition AD&D

In the 2nd edition of AD&D, each normal magic item again has an experience value, which is given to the player character for successfully creating it. This edition has a similar item list to that of 1st edition, although the second edition core rules include many of the items that were introduced in the first edition rulebook Unearthed Arcana.

The second edition does not cover artifacts in the core rules at all, instead describing them in a separate book, the Book of Artifacts.

3rd and 3.5 editions

Body slot Item types
Arms / wrists (one slot) Bracelets, bracers
Eyes Goggles, lenses
Feet (one slot) Boots, shoes
Fingers (one slot per hand) Rings
Head Hat, headband, helmet, phylactery
Hands (one slot) Gauntlets, gloves
Neck Amulet, brooch, medallion, scarab, necklace, periapt
Shoulders Cape, cloak, mantle
Torso (inner layer) Shirt, vest, vestment
Torso (outer layer) Armor, robe
Waist Belt
None Slotless worn items, items which are not worn

In the 3rd and 3.5 editions, magic items are divided not only into the traditional nine categories, but also by body slot; two items worn on the same body slot will not function. Each magic item has a caster level, and normal magic items have a price.

Enhancement bonuses for weapons and armor are always capped at +5 for regular items (it no longer depends on weapon type), but this cap is lifted not only for artifacts but also for epic-level items.

Potions and oils, in these editions, generally reproduce the effects of low level spells. Likewise, wands and staves also reproduce standard spell effects; wands contain charges of a single spell (which will cost only one charge), while staves contain multiple spells, some of which can cost more than one charge to activate. A few types of staves, such as the staff of power, have additional properties.

Unlike staves and wands, 3rd edition magical rods generally do not mimic spells or have charges, and can be activated by anyone.

The third edition uses the term "wondrous items" in place of "miscellaneous magic items". It split artifacts into "minor" and "major" categories; the major artifacts being equivalent to the artifacts of the earlier editions, while the minor artifacts included non-creatable but non-unique items such as the magic books or spheres of annihilation.

4th edition

Types Subtypes and examples
Armor Body armor, clothing
Neck slot items Amulets, cloaks
Implements Holy symbols, orbs, rods, staves, wands
Weapons Melee weapons, ranged weapons
Arms slot items Bracers, shields
Feet slot items Boots, shoes
Hands slot items Gauntlets, gloves
Head slot items Circlets, crowns, eyewear, helms, Ioun stones
Rings None
Waist slot items Belts, sashes
Wondrous items Containers, figurines, tools, stones, vehicles
Consumables Elixirs, potions, reagents, whetstones

In the 4th edition, magic items are divided into 12 broad categories: armor, implements, weapons, rings, consumables, wondrous items, and items which occupy the arms, feet, hands, head, neck and waist slots. Standard magic items have a level from 1 to 30 and a cost in gold pieces. With the exception of consumables, which use a separate cost table, items of the same level have the same cost. Wands, rods, and staves are all considered implements in the new edition; staves are considered to be weapons as well.

The powers of magic items are divided into at-will, encounter, daily, healing surge and consumable powers. The first three classes function like their class power counterparts, being limited in usage by the character's level. Healing Surge powers function like daily powers; however, they can be recharged by expending a healing surge. Consumable powers are generally found on consumable items, a class which includes potions, elixirs, reagents, and whetstones.

Properties are passive, unlimited-use effects of magic items, such the carrying capacity and weight reduction of a bag of holding. Enhancement bonuses can now be found on implements and neck slot items as well as armor and weapons; they range from +1 to +6, and each bonus level is associated with a particular range of character levels. The enhancement bonus on a neck-slot item applies to all defenses.

Scrolls are no longer classified as magical items. Ritual scrolls are single use consumable items, each of which contains a specific ritual (4th edition's equivalent of non-combat spells), halves the time required to perform that ritual and allows it to be performed without a ritual book. After it has been expended, a ritual scroll crumbles to dust.[6]

Artifacts are unique, powerful magic items. Unlike typical magical items, artifacts have tiers (heroic, paragon or epic) rather than levels, and don't have costs. An artifact's power depends on its current attitude towards its wielder, and they can "move on" when their goal is achieved.


The vorpal sword first appeared in Supplement I: Greyhawk (1976), listed as "Vorpal Blade", and later appeared in the original Dungeon Master's Guide (1979), listed as "sword, vorpal weapon". The name of the sword is derived from the vorpal sword mentioned in Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky", apparently a reference to the boy's decapitation of the Jabberwock. The designers of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game take "vorpal" to mean capable of decapitation, specifically through magical means. "Vorpal swords" exist fictionally in various works, especially in role-playing games and video games, where they are generally based on the Dungeons & Dragons concept. While its statistics have varied through the editions of the game, the weapon has been defined by its magical power to decapitate foes more easily than an ordinary weapon could. The vorpal blade in 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons does not behead opponents.

A ring of regeneration bestows magical ability of regeneration upon its wearer. Because of the way that Dungeons & Dragons handles regeneration, the wearer is essentially immortal. Regeneration allows successful reattaching of severed limbs or regrowing them. Rings of regeneration can be given different levels of power by the Dungeon Master. The magnitude of their regenerative abilities is given as a numerical value, which represents the number of hit points regained per combat round, or six seconds. A lesser form of regeneration that does not allow the regrowth of lost limbs is called fast healing.

Boots of speed enable the wearer to run very fast—usually as fast as a galloping horse, or slower if the wearer is heavy. The wearer must usually rest for long periods after use.

Ioun stones (pronounced EYE-oon[7]) are based on similar artifacts from Jack Vance's Dying Earth series.[8] When functioning, they float in a circular pattern around their bearer's head, and grant various benefits based on their color and shape. Two stones of the same type will repel each other, and when drained of power, a stone becomes a dull grey, but still possesses the characteristic floating. While useless to a mage, burned out stones can still yield a single psionic power point to a psionic character in 3rd and 3.5 editions. In the original Jack Vance stories IOUN stones are highly prized by arch-magicians, and are acquired from a race known as the archveults, who mine them from remnants of dead stars (in his book Rhialto the Marvellous). In 2E Dungeons & Dragons it had been conjectured in Dragon magazine that Ioun stones instead come from the Positive Material Plane. Dragon #174 featured an article that included many dozens of new types of ioun stone,[9] as well as an article about an elemental lord who hordes ioun stones on his home plane of radiance.[10] Under 3.0/3.5 editions of the rules they are instead manufactured by spellcasters in the same manner as other magical items.


  1. ^ D&D Alumni: Magic Items
  2. ^ Fine, Gary Alan (1983). Shared Fantasy: Role-playing Games as Social Worlds. University of Chicago Press. p. 16. ISBN 0226249441. 
  3. ^ Livingstone, Ian (1982). Dicing with Dragons. Routledge. p. 80. ISBN 0710094663. 
  4. ^ "Save or Die: The Ultimate Sandbox" includes detailed description of early D&D texts
  5. ^ "This prevents players from gaining any knowledge of these items, even if they happen to own or read a copy of this volume, and it also makes each artifact and relic distinct from campaign to campaign." from Dungeon Master's Guide (first edition)
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Dungeons & Dragons FAQ". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-10-03. Retrieved 2008-10-03. 
  8. ^ "The idea and name for the ioun stone originally appeared in a series of books written by Jack Vance. Collectively, these works are referred to as the Dying Earth novels. They include: The Dying Earth, Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel’s Saga, and Rhialto the Marvelous." (Hargenrader 1991, "Bazaar", p 90)
  9. ^ Hargenrader, Matthew P. (1991-10). "Bazaar of the Bizarre: Ioun stones: Where do you go if you want some more?". Dragon Magazine (TSR, Inc) (174): pp. 90–94. 
  10. ^ Hargenrader, Matthew P. "The Dragon's Bestiary" Dragon #174. (TSR, 1991).

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